Today in Black History 07/23/2015 | William Grant Still - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 07/23/2015 | William Grant Still

 July 23, 1936 William Grant Still became the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra when he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi but raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He attended Wilberforce University where he conducted the university band and started to compose. After serving in the United States Navy during World War I, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy and later played in the pit orchestra for the musical “Shuffle Along.” Still was the recipient of the first Guggenheim Fellowship in 1934. His opera “Troubled Island” (1939) was performed by the New York City Opera March 31, 1949, the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major opera company. Despite selling out the first three nights and receiving 22 curtain calls on opening night, the opera was shut down, never to be staged again. “Just Tell the Story: Troubled Island” (2006) delves into some of the reasons why. Still eventually moved to Los Angeles, California where he arranged music for films, including “Pennies From Heaven” (1936) and “Lost Horizon” (1937). He received honorary doctorate degrees from a number of institutions. Still died December 3, 1978. His opera “A Bayou Legend” became the first opera by an African American to be performed on national television when it premiered on PBS June 15, 1981. His biography,” In One Lifetime: A Biography of William Grant Still”,” was published in 1984.

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